The principal of Madison’s East High School apologized to parents Tuesday for a comment by the head of security for the Madison School District that appeared to downplay sexual assault.
Principal Michael Hernandez sent an email in response to a news interview with Joe Balles, the district’s safety and security coordinator, following an alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl inside the school building by two boys last week.
Balles, a former Madison Police Department captain, was interviewed by WISC-TV for a story Monday about preventing sexual assault in school and the security presence inside high schools after the school day ends.
“Our buildings are full of kids, and kids will be kids,” Balles said at one point. “As terrible and tragic as that incident sounds, I would just ask that people just be patient. Our schools are very safe, but there are incidents that are going to happen from time to time.”
In a statement Tuesday, Balles said his comments were intended to describe keeping students safe in school buildings after classes generally, adding he made “an extremely poor word choice” in “a story on this topic.”
“It is never OK to rationalize, minimize or excuse sexual assault, and there is no excuse for my words, which did not recognize the profoundly deep impact that sexual violence has,” Balles said in the statement.
Hernandez said schools should be sensitive to the traumas of students and staff and provide services for not only physical, but also emotional health.
The boys, both 15, have been arrested and charged in juvenile court with felony second-degree sexual assault and fourth-degree sexual assault, which is a misdemeanor. One boy is also charged with kidnapping, and the other is charged with being party to a crime of kidnapping.
According to a search warrant filed Monday in Dane County Circuit Court:
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The girl told police she and another boy were in school on April 10 after classes ended, and she perceived a statement from the boy as asking if she wanted to have sex with him. The girl said she was waiting for her father to pick her up, and he grabbed her backpack and ran into a bathroom.
She followed him into the bathroom, telling police they were friends and she thought the boy was “playing.”
A second boy entered the bathroom, the girl told police, and they both blocked her from leaving before raping her as she attempted to push them away.
The girl reported the rape to East High’s school resource officer, who arrested the first boy the following day. After his arrest, the first boy told police in an interview he was watching over the girl’s backpack when he needed to go to the bathroom, and she followed him in.
He reported he promptly left the bathroom and told the second boy the girl was inside, according to the search warrant. He told police after returning to the bathroom an hour later, the girl and the second boy were still there.
The warrant was filed to obtain DNA from the first boy. It doesn’t include any statements from the second boy.
District spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson said the district is working with the Rape Crisis Center in Madison to teach students about sexual assault, consent and where to report assaults if they occur.
In a statement, the Rape Crisis Center said it was “deeply troubled” by Balles’ comments. Phrases such as “kids will be kids” perpetuates “a culture that facilitates violence, particularly sexual violence, in our communities,” the statement said.
“It is my job to ensure schools are physically, mentally and emotionally safe spaces for all,” Balles said. “I recognize the deep impact that my words had, and I will do better for our students.”